POTA Activation #10 - Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historic Park and State Park (MD) (4/23/2022)

On April 23rd 2022 my daughter's Girl Scout troop had a trip out to to the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historic Park and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park out on the Delmarva peninsula of Maryland (Parks K-0736 & K-6382). I decided to go for an activation while they had a tour and did the steps necessary for them to get their badge for the event. Afterward, they could swing by and get a taste of Amateur Radio and get on the air for a bit operating under my call.

There is a museum complex and picnic area that is run as a Maryland State Park that is inside of the larger National Historic Park -- a twofer! It was almost a threefer as the state park is surrounded by the Blackwater National Wildlife refuge. Unfortunately, after scrutinizing the maps it became clear that the state park is excluded from the NWR. As it turns out, where I activated was less than 20 feet from the NWR (which appears to start at the water -- there were signs telling you not to go in unauthorized), but not in the NWR.

There was also a pavilion there, but there was a large group of Girl Scouts from another troop having a blast enjoying lunch and playing, so I picked a beautifully sited picnic table on the banks of the aforementioned pond and started to set things up. I decided to use my Buddistick Pro for this outing to keep wires to be walked-into to a minimum and was up and on the air very quickly. I set up on 40m, self-spotted, and called CQ, and called CQ, and called CQ ... and nothing. I was able to scan around the band and hear other stations, but nobody seemed to hear me. Very frustrating. After shouting in the dark for a while it was time to change bands.

Off to 20m I went. The band definitely seemed busy, but at first there was more shouting in the dark. Finally I got a call back from a station in Georgia who gave me a signal report of 57. I thanked him for his contact and a couple minutes later got another call, this time a park to park from Wisconsin. I started feeling some optimism, but then more shouting into the dark for a good 16 minutes. Then I got another park-to-park, this time a twofer into Georgia, and I was grateful not only for the park to parks, but for the fact it counted as two contacts. I was staring in the face of what had the potential to be my first failed activations.

More shouting in the dark ensued, and I decided to give 17m a try after seeing a handful of stations on the band. Maybe conditions were better up there? I was able to hear a few stations there, but they could not hear me. My CQs went unanswered. After a half hour of nothing working, I decided to give 40m another go, so I re-tuned the Buddistick Pro's radial and coil and re-spotted for the band and I finally got a call from Virginia with a 57 report, so I was getting out okay it seemed. Then back to the void for 13 minutes until I got a call from North Carolina with a 55. Then back to no contacts.

I decided to go back to 20m and as I was re-tapping the coil and shortening the radial I heard the yells of my daughter and her Girl Scout troop. I gave them a quick introduction to the radio and what I was doing, and also tried to temper expectations. In just under 2 hours I had only managed 6 contacts, I knew we had another place to visit and had to get home, so my time on the bands was limited. A failed activation was looking to be quite likely. I had typed up a script for them with the basic POTA exchange and my call done phonetically. A few of the girls got on the air, but for a while we had no takers. After a break in the action, I proposed we do one last try. I did a re-spot and put a note that we were doing a demonstration for a Girl Scout troop and to give us a call.

After a minute or so we got some calls one after another. Georgia was first with a 57 (contact 7), followed by a two operator team doing a Park to Park from Missouri (contacts 8 and 9). Then a call from all the way up in Nova Scotia for contact 10. We had a valid activation! Next we had another call from Missouri to get to 11 contacts before a station out of Alabama started calling CQ over us (presumably he could not hear us). Since we were getting short on time, we decided to call it a day and pack up the station.

A few of the girls really seemed excited to hear the stations calling from all over. A few times we heard some Spanish language stations that sounded like they were from Europe and they thought it was cool to be able to hear and talk over such long distances. We're already talking about potentially doing the Amateur Radio badge for Girl Scouts that ARRL has, and I'm planning on bringing my station with us for a weekend camping trip next month to hopefully give them some more opportunities to get excited about radio and get on the air.

Today's activation reminded me of an aphorism that my mother always likes to quote: "When all else fails, perseverance prevails". I'm glad with a bit of stubborness, luck, and the kindness of my fellow amateur radio operators, I was able to pull this activation from the jaws of defeat and have fun with the Girl Scouts.

Gear used in this activation
  • Icom IC-705
  • Buddipole Buddistick Pro Antenna
  • LDG Z100 Plus
  • RigExpert Stick Pro Antenna Analyzer
  • Icom LC-192
  • Bioenno 12V 6Ah LiFePO4 Battery
  • Sony Headphones
  • Samsung Galaxy S6 Lite Tablet
  • Logitech K380 Bluetooth Keyboard
  • Rite in the Rain Notebook
  • Zebra DelGuard Mechanical Pencil